One of many first Mexican eateries in New York Metropolis opened in midtown in 1938. Its proprietor, Juvencio Maldonado, who had sailed over from the Yucatán Peninsula, known as his place Xochitl, after an Aztec goddess. He patented a mechanical taco-shell fryer and printed a glossary of imported culinary phrases for his befuddled diners. (Tortilla: “a flat, spherical corn cake, about 6 inches in diameter and 1/16 inch thick . . . could be bent or rolled, as we will clarify.”) For many years, Xochitl was nearly the one sport on the town. The scene ramified within the nineteen-eighties and nineties, when the town’s Mexican inhabitants grew eightfold. New arrivals would launch taco vehicles, tamale pushcarts, panaderías, tortilla factories, and greater than a thousand skilled kitchens within the 5 boroughs. If a sure French tire producer is to be believed, among the many better of them at this time is Casa Enrique, which opened a decade in the past, in Queens, and is the primary Mexican restaurant within the metropolis to have been awarded a Michelin star—yearly since 2015.
A few years earlier than the chef Cosme Aguilar opened Casa Enrique—earlier than he toiled in French eating places as a porter after which a line cook dinner after which a chef, earlier than his first profession, as a teen-age automobile mechanic, earlier than even his beginning—his mom ran a small restaurant in Chiapas. She handed away in 1983, when he was a boy. Twenty-nine years later, when Aguilar determined to open his personal place, he turned to a pocket book of recipes she left behind. One of many first dishes he tried to re-create was her albondigas—meatballs, every with a hard-boiled egg in its middle, sunk in a smoky tomato sauce ready with onion, garlic, and chipotle chilies. “The primary time I made albondigas right here, it actually received me,” Aguilar stated. “I hadn’t tasted that meal in a really very long time, and I used to be, like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s similar to my mother used to make.’ I virtually cried.”
Aguilar has a dozen tales like that. “Everyone who needs to open a Mexican restaurant in New York,” he stated, “they wish to go fancy—they use truffles.” He was sporting a masks, however you could possibly inform he made a face when he stated “truffles.” Aguilar is just not above aesthetic embellishment, however he additionally believes that overbold improvisation on conventional fare too usually spins out, crashing over the guardrails of tribute and into the pit of cultural snobbery. He, as a substitute, elects to go deeper. His menu is his memoir.
Aguilar’s mole de Piaxtla, poured over stewed hen, is an homage each to his father’s dwelling city and to the reminiscence of his paternal grandmother, who would press into service anybody inside shouting distance at any time when she made mole. “Somebody could be peeling the chilies, another person could be toasting the nuts,” he stated. “It’s a whole lot of substances!” Aguilar’s model has twenty-four, together with chilies (5 varieties), almonds, raisins, figs, sesame seeds, plantains, and cocoa powder. Atop the accompanying yellow rice, he throws down a dare: a single mature chile de árbol (Scoville warmth models: as much as 65,000). A frozen blueberry margarita, or a number of, is a few consolation right here.
No matter you order comes with a sizzling pot of steaming tortillas, and lots of dishes lend themselves to imaginative reassembly within the type of tacos. Take the cochinito Chiapaneco, a love letter to Aguilar’s native Chiapas, for which he marinates pork ribs in apple-cider vinegar, guajillo chilies, garlic, and recent thyme earlier than slow-roasting them for 4 hours. When you’ve dispatched the ribs, what’s to be completed with the leftover marinade? Spoon it over a rice-and-beans medley and fold it right into a tortilla, clearly.
The heartiest winter dish, a shredded-pork-and-hominy soup topped with julienned radish, seems on the menu as Pozole de Mi Tía. Aguilar gained’t specify which aunt. “I’ve to watch out,” he stated. “I’ve six aunts on my father’s facet, and one other six on my mom’s facet.” A pause. “It’s a whole lot of aunts!” (Entrées $21-$36.) ♦